After winning at Pocono in August, Jeff Gordon finished 21st and 28th the next two weeks. Not exactly the best way to follow up a Wild Card contending win.
But over the final three weeks of the NASCAR regular season, Gordon closed with a flourish with finishes of third, second and second, flipping the narrative of his season from "can he make the Chase?" to now "can he win the Chase?"
The answer to the latter, of course, is yes. Gordon has had capable cars all season long. But it also comes with the caveat that this is Jeff Gordon's 2012. Anything can, and has, happened.
There was the blown engine at Daytona, the cut tire with Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Bristol, a crash at Talladega after starting on the pole, troubles at Darlington. Yeah, you get the drift.
But all of those issues came in the first 11 races of the season, after which Gordon stood 23rd in the Sprint Cup points standings. Since then, Gordon finished on the lead lap all but once, and that was at Michigan during the great Hendrick engine epidemic of 2012.
Best Chase Track: Gordon was king at Martinsville before Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin challenged his throne, and is still pretty damn good there, with seven wins and 31 top 10s in 39 starts. From the first race of 2003 to the first race of 2010, Gordon didn't finish outside of the top 10.
Worst Chase Track: It's either Talladega or Texas. Gordon's Talladega stats are skewed by wrecks that cancel out his six wins in 39 starts. At Texas, Gordon has one win, and has finished sixth and fourth his last two trips there after three straight finishes outside the top 10.
NB's Prediction: 7th. You can look at Gordon's season one of two ways. Either the NASCAR karmic gods continue to owe him for his horrendous luck at the start of the season, or his good summer stretch has balanced out that awful first 11 races and he's starting the Chase at neutral. Gordon has a fantastic chance of getting to victory lane over the next 10 races, but all it takes is just one race with a bad break to take a driver out of title contention too.
NASCAR video from Yahoo! Sports:
Other popular content on the Yahoo! network:
• Unflappable rookie Manny Machado fakes out Rays in critical Orioles victory
• NFL power rankings: Niners' Harbaugh good at shooting down questions
• Forde-Yard Dash: Coaching changes shake up college football landscape
• Yahoo! Finance: Ten best-paying careers for the future